Suzanne Eaton

1959-2019

Suzanne Eaton

In memory of the wonderful friend, wife, mother, scientist, mentor, and colleague who also gave us our name, Dewpoint.

 

One evening in the late fall of 2018, Tony Hyman was at his home in Dresden, talking by speakerphone with his new startup co-founder Rick Young back in Cambridge. “Rick and I were discussing how to name the company,” Hyman remembers. “I was walking around the room, and we were coming up with one terrible name after another. ‘Phase Space’ was something I was keen on, and Rick was like, ‘That’s terrible, Tony.’ And then Suzanne came out of the kitchen and said, ‘Why don’t you call it Dewpoint?’”

 

Hyman and his wife Suzanne Eaton met in California when Hyman was a postdoc, then continued together to Heidelberg, where they both conducted research in cell biology at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory. When Hyman and Eaton moved together to Dresden to start the Max Plank Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, her group used Drosophila fruit flies to study how morphogens, signaling proteins secreted by cells, dictate the shapes and patterns that cells take in the developing embryo.

 

In addition to being a leading scientific voice at MPI, Eaton was a Renaissance woman—an accomplished writer, chef, concert pianist, mother, and martial-arts practitioner who was also beloved by the MPI-CBG staff as a thoughtful and infinitely attentive listener and advisor. “She was the best of America in that way,” Hyman says. “She’d been at Brown. She was very well educated and knowledgeable. She did The New York Times crossword every weekend before lunch. And she had a real mastery of language and words, a precision. And, you know, coming up with the name ‘Dewpoint’ represented that ability to think about language properly.”

 

The dew point is the temperature below which water vapor will begin to condense out of the air, forming droplets; it’s a function of relative humidity and barometric pressure. With a touch of poetry, the name evokes the moment of phase separation inside cells, when intrinsically disordered proteins and other biomolecules form condensates.

 

Just months after Dewpoint’s founding, senseless tragedy struck the family. In early July, 2019, Eaton was on the Greek island of Crete to attend a scientific meeting at the Orthodox Academy, a conference center outside Chania. During a break in the program, she went out for a run—and never returned. Hyman and his sons Max and Luke buried Suzanne in a local Dresden friedhof, or graveyard, close to her daily running route.

 

“Suzanne, better than all of us, had unlocked the secret of how to live a happy and fulfilled life,” Hyman said at a memorial service in California. “She had learned to leave rancor aside, and search for the good inside people, and had become reluctant to spend her time with people who did not share her sense that the world was a good place.”